anton osten


"It is easy to denounce Nazis. Republican lawmakers, if you truly repudiate this march and this violence, then repudiate voter-ID laws. Repudiate gerrymandering. Repudiate police brutality. Repudiate mass incarceration and private prisons. Repudiate the war on drugs. Repudiate the fact that black Americans have still not been compensated for the unpaid forced labor that was foundational to white financial stability. Repudiate gun control obstructionism. Repudiate the Muslim ban. Repudiate the wall. Repudiate anti-abortion legislation. Repudiate abstinence-only education. Repudiate environmental deregulation. Repudiate birtherism. Repudiate homophobia and transphobia. Repudiate your own health care bill, which would have led to the deaths of thousands more people than a Dodge Challenger driven into a crowd. Repudiate your president.

None of that will happen (except maybe the last one, as soon as it becomes politically advantageous), so here’s what’s actually important: White people, this is all being done in your name. If you don’t want it, prove it. Put your body in between fascists and the future. Start now."

Republicans, This Is Your President

only a little worse

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."

They Thought They Were Free


Above all, I fear for the planet. For the Arctic ice that will continue to melt, for the seas that will continue to rise, for the lives of people and animals that will be threatened by the poison that we will continue pumping into our air.

Almost any policy can be reversed and undone, and change for the worse can be replaced with change for the better, except for change on which our planet will not wait. Our planet is indifferent. It will not care about our politics and the reasons for which we choose those who lead us. It will react, every minute of every day, with scientific inevitability, to everything we do regardless of what we believe and who we elect.

Four years of no change for the better will squander what precious little time we have to stop our planet's indifferent reaction from destroying all that we need to live, to grow, to prosper and to be happy. Four years of change for the worse will speed up that destruction and may prevent us from bringing any change to stop it.

I fear that we will have no change for the better. I fear even more that we will have change for the worse.

But we must not let our fear turn into terror and paralyse us. We must let that fear drive us to fight, to stop change for the worse, and to bring change for the better. Our planet is indifferent. It does not care about our politics. It will not judge our decisions, and it will not care who leads us. As long as we bring change for the better, as long as we stop poisoning our air, our planet may stop changing for the worse, and the ice may not melt, the seas may not rise, and we may continue to grow and to prosper.

But for that, we must fight. We must fear what would happen if make no change for the better, and we must fight.

the man who did nothing

It was a funeral of a man who was not known for anything. As far as anyone could tell, the man had no relatives, and no friends, or even acquaintances. Certainly, none of them came to honour his memory.

That memory itself was vague. No one could recall much about his life. Igna, the owner of the bookshop on Linden, said that all that she could remember was how the man wandered the streets around her bookshop, and although sometimes he came in, he just as aimlessly wandered around the bookshop and always left without buying any books or even starting a conversation.

The man's scarcity of words was remembered also by Elsten, who worked at the bakery by the Central Square. Elsten would recall that the man sometimes dropped by the bakery, never at the same time of the day and often not appearing for days on end. He bought a different baked good every time, often ones that were a day old, and left without talking. Elsten admitted she had assumed the man could not speak, until one day he came to the bakery at three thirty-one, smiled, and said "Hello."

No one knew if the man had been employed, or how he occupied his time. Fredrik said that someone told him the man was an artist, but no art was found anywhere in his small flat overlooking the Tiller Bridge. There were, in fact, no books or any other objects of culture or entertainment at his residence, other than, someone said, a small volume of poetry by lesser known poets of the previous century. That much was true. When the Chief Investigator inspected the book for any notes, marks, or dents made by a fingernail, mostly out of his own curiosity, she found nothing. So, while it was certain that the book had been in the man's possession, no one could say for sure if the man had ever read it, let alone if any of the poems were favoured by him more than others.

In short, the man's life was a mystery, albeit, most agreed, a mystery that hid nothing behind it. Kredis, the newspaper reporter, spent the week between his dropping dead by the cinema on Ponwak street to his funeral trying to find out something about his life that would grip and intrigue her readers. Despite her efforts, she came up with nothing other than the aforementioned fact about his owning a book of lesser known poetry.

Therefore, on the basis of all this evidence, most residents of the town agreed that the man did nothing, achieved nothing, and would probably be remembered for nothing. Still, a number of them came to his funeral, if only because he had lived in the town, and they wanted him to be seen off by someone, even if none of them had known him or had any interest in his life before he died.

At the funeral, the civil officiant asked if anyone had anything to say in the man's memory. No one who came had been close to the man, and so the officiant did not expect anyone to speak up. She had a piece of paper with a speech prepared for occasions when the deceased person had no known family and no known friends. She had already taken it out of her jacket and was smoothening it out in front of her, when, to the surprise of her and everyone else, Vetton, a teacher at one of the town's schools, rose from his seat and announced that he wanted to speak. There was a murmur among the small crowd. Itta, a member of the town's council, asked Gritta, the headmaster of the school where Vetton taught mathematics, if he and the man had been in any way related. As far as Gritta knew, he was not.

"Are you a relative?" the officiant, too, asked incredulously. "Or, perhaps, a friend?"

"If I were not," replied Vetton, "would that preclude me from speaking?"

"No, of course not," said the officiant, and gestured for Vetton to come forward.

Vetton walked over to the platform and stood by the officiant, who had now moved aside.

"Indeed, as you might suspect, I was in no way related to the man we are putting into the ground today, nor was I his friend, nor did I know much about him at all."

Vetton spoke softly, but with a certain gravity that electrified the people in front of him. Even Jarko, an accountant and a part time photographer for the same newspaper which employed Kredis, who had been nodding off, immediately returned to alertness.

"I suspect none of us knew much about him. I know that no one from his family is here ― otherwise we would have already seen them ― and I fear the man did not have any family to speak of, just as, I believe, he did not have any friends. Yes, to be sure, we all knew him just a little, because we've seen him walk around the town or feed old bread to ducks out by the Ponds, but ― and please correct me if this is false ― I don't believe that any one of us have ever heard him talk at length."

Vetton stopped, waiting to see if anyone would correct him. No one did. A few people, one of them Elsten from the bakery, mumbled that they could barely get him to say hello.

"So," Vetton continued, "it seems true, then, that no one really knew this man. No one admired this man, but, also, no one hated him. And that, I say, is why we need to celebrate his life, as we might not celebrate the life of someone else. Why, may you ask?"

A few attendees did ask.

"We have to celebrate his life precisely since he spent it doing nothing that would inspire love, or hate, or admiration, or revulsion. How many men had earned devotion and respect at the expense of someone else's pain? I cannot count. This man led no one and inspired no one. How many men who led with inspiration morphed into dictators and tyrants? I cannot count. This man had neither family nor friends, and we know no one who could claim to love him. How many men, friends, husbands, fathers had been loved, and then hurt those who loved them? I cannot count. This man created nothing, he left nothing that would last, and offered nothing to the world. How many men's inventions and undying contributions to our planet have been used to kill, or torture, or instil emotional distress? I cannot count because there simply are too many. And yet whenever such men die, there's always someone who speaks up and glorifies their life, and others join in, and then these men, who – yes, perhaps unwillingly – have hurt, are celebrated. Well, I propose to you, my fellow people of this town, that if we celebrate the lives of men like that, we must then celebrate especially the life of this man here, the one we're burying today. For if those men we celebrate had brought us anything we might remember, they'd just as surely left things that some of us are trying to forget. And in this way, this man, who has done nothing, achieved more greatness than those other men ― and more than all of us combined ― because his life comprised one big, inarguable achievement, and that achievement is that by doing nothing all his life, this man," Vetton pointed to the man in the coffin, "hurt no one, murdered no one, disappointed and embarrassed no one, and isn't leaving anyone with memories of suffering or pain. And therefore his life, whose only daily occupation was to wander our streets and feed old bread to ducks, should be remembered most of all. He could've worked, he could've acted with ambition, he also could have loved, but he restrained his urge to do those things, and thus he leaves us leaving no regrets. That's why, I think, that all of us should tell him ― he, of course, is dead, but still ― 'Goodbye, o man whom no one cared about or knew and never talked to. You never did us any good, but neither did you do us any evil. For that, we honour you. For that, we will remember you. For that, we wish that some who did and built and battled and destroyed, had stopped, and thought, and followed your example of inaction. Because if we remember you for nothing, then we’ll remember you for nothing bad."

Having said all that without a single pause, Vetton finally stopped talking and started clapping. After some time, others joined him. Soon enough, Itta, Gritta, Kredis, Jarko, Igna, Elsten, Fredrik, the officiant, and then the rest of them stood up and clapped.

unnatural and offensive

Once, when some reason of government bureaucracy made me dig out my <a href="">SNILS</a>, Russia's equivalent of a Social Security card, I examined it in the same idle manner in which many of us examine government documents that we don't look at very often. On the card's back side, it gave a list of circumstances in which one would need to have it replaced. If you change your name, surname or patronymic. If you change your date or place of birth (although I wonder how one can retroactively change the temporal and geographical circumstances of their birth). If you find inaccuracies or errors in the card's data. If the card is damaged. If you change your sex.

<img src="" width="400px">

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that part. Go them, I thought, telling people who do not identify with a sex they were assigned at birth, that if they change it, they will still be a part of the system, just like everyone else. In a country where LGBT individuals are denied freedom of expression, suffer violent attacks in public, and are frequently ostracised and disowned by their own families, I found that having transgender identity so plainly acknowledged on a common government document was progressive. So progressive it was almost out of place.

Turns out I wasn't the only one who found that line about sex change out of place. In April of this year, Sultan Khamzayev, a member of Russia's Civic Chamber, an organisation Putin created supposedly so that members of the public could weigh in on legislative and executive activity, but which lately mostly expresses their moral outrage at stuff they find distasteful, expressed his moral outrage at the fact that the SNILS mentions sex change. He said that listing it there meant that a sex change "is supposedly natural and as widespread and common as a change of surname, name, or patronymic." This, according to him, "does not correspond to the principles of morality and offends the moral principles of the majority of [Russia's] citizens, especially parents, the religious community, and every representative of a traditional faith."

Russia's Pension Fund, which issues the cards, heard him loud and clear ― after all, he speaks for the majority of Russians and knows what every religious person finds offensive. Today, the Fund's head, Anton Drozdov, announced that the part about sex change will be removed. New cards, which will start to be issued in October, will not have it.

Millions of Russian citizens can thank Mr Khamzayev and sleep safe, knowing that in those infrequent times they will find themselves reading the back of their SNILS cards, they won't have to be reminded about the problems of transgender identity.